How Covid Has Changed Our Public Policy Making

The Outbreak of the Coronavirus has significantly altered our approach to public policy making - for good and bad.

Podcast – Script

Welcome to the ‘‘The Aliberg Podcast’’. I am Hamse Abdilahi, your host for this show. In today’s podcast, I will be discussing how the Covid-19 Pandemic has changed our politics, public policy, and political debate, not only nationally but also globally, particularly at the height of the outbreak of the virus.

The impact of the outbreak of Coronavirus virus in the UK and around the world in early 2020 was a turning point in modern human history. I will not go into the gloomy experience of total lockdowns, high death rates, and tremendous sense of fear that had gripped the nation. Throughout this difficult time, I lived here in London with my family. What I will discuss in this episode is largely the political implications of the outbreak of the pandemic. In other words, how it has affected our politics and public policy in both theory and practice.

For simplicity and for the easy understanding for most of my audience, I will categorise the Covid impact on politics and public policy into eight main parts, without resorting very technical words and phrases used in political science

Increased public expenditure: in other words, spending far more than planned on Covid support schemes to counter the economic challenges brought about by Coronavirus. Even the most conservative of governments or the most financially or fiscally prudent Western governments, public spending on countering immediate financial shock has been staggering. Here in the UK, despite a conservative party in power, the government was spending far more than any generous socialist government would think about ever spending. Countless number of funds and financial schemes were set up – from the Furlough schemes to subsidise private enterprise to various expenditures aimed at helping the very hard-hit communities. The British government was splashing money like never before. In other Western countries, the United States for example, was sending monthly cheques to people across the country.

Speedy, less bureaucratic policy implementation: In normal circumstances, enacting, discussing, approving, and finally implementing a national policy is a painstaking process. In democratic societies, the process is even put to a much greater scrutiny and political debate. However, during the Covid outbreak, we saw policies adapted and implemented at a lightning speed as if all checks and balances, which normally constrained governments, were done away with.

More direct communication with the public on policies: Endless number of press conferences, many of them aired live on national television, governments across the world have communicated with their public more directly and more frequently, arguably than ever before in modern history. From declaring a new policy or prediction to on-and-off easing, lifting, and reimposing restrictions, the public was glued to television hoping for a relief or a return to normalcy.

Social policies took centre stage: As the outbreak of Covid-19 laid bare the social inequalities that shaped and scarred many of our societies, there has become a growing realisation that the status quo is not working and therefore cannot be maintained. Social policies helping the most vulnerable took centre stage to a varying degree. It was increasingly becoming clear that this global pandemic gave us an opportunity to address, re-examine those entrenched social inequities. A poor neighbourhood in East London or a gentrified inner-city neighbourhood in Manchester, there is a realisation that development and displacement ought not go together.

Local government led the implementation of central government policies: Local authorities have been on the frontline in the fight against the pandemic: responsible for organizing local testing, contact tracing, treatment, and isolation programs, buying protective equipment, and setting up a system to eventually deliver a vaccine. Local governments have been chronically underfunded in most global cities. It seems to me the role of local governments has been acknowledged – that they are best suited to tackling local problems than the traditionally mistrusted central government.

Relationship between government and business is forever altered. The outbreak of the virus provided an opportunity to seriously re-examine the roles of government and business in society, to figure out what each is best at doing, what each is not well suited to deliver, and areas where they should collaborate. Conflict of interest is a perennial challenge to modern governance. Emergency situations provide an opportunity for conflict of interest. I think we need to curb it while at the same time harnessing the positive role of the private sector to tackle our greatest challenge alone or alongside the government of the day.

Science and facts denialist policies emerged. The pandemic has widened the policy gap between the left and the right. Even the most basic of things like masking or taking a vaccine have become so unnecessarily political. Anti-lockdown, anti-vaccine, anti-science, anti-climate change protesters led by far -right politicians have become more common. This is to me one of the most unfortunate outcomes of the pandemic, which has adversely affected public policy. The governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, is a case in point. He is an elite educated politician catering to far-right policies to win local support in this increasingly Republican state.

The lack of integrity in some of our political leaders exposed. Time after another, manyof our political leaders and policymakers who have lacked integrity has been exposed – leaders who set policies whom they themselves were not willing to follow, let alone lead by example. This shone a light on the nature of policymaker required to set a policy. In many cases, the society’s traditionally high bar for having leaders lead by example have been upended in the most spectacular of ways. The No.10 Downing Street parties at the height of the pandemic was a classic example of politicians without integrity.

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